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I freeloaded my way into Brian Hill’s “Pistol Essentials and Beyond” to write an article for work (full disclosure, Brian’s wife Shelley writes for us), and while there, I had some breakthroughs about the mind game of shooting. 

As some of you know, I’ve been pursuing Master Class in IDPA for about a year, trying to build up my skills to the point where I can shoot the IPDA 25 Round Classifier in 18.47 seconds or less. 

Pay attention to the verbs in that previous sentence as they’ll be important later on. 

From concealment, at 5 yards, so I can shoot when I need to.

Now, why I chose IDPA Master as my goal? As far as  I can tell*, John Hearne came up with the idea of “automaticity,” which can be defined as “an ability that is so completely ingrained that it can function under stress conditions where the novice might freeze up.” In other words, it’s on-demand performance, or what can you do right now, with no warm up, and IDPA Master is right at the level where the cost/benefit really starts to fall off a cliff. Anymore than that is just not worth the effort for me.

Why it important to have automatic performance? Well, the chances of having a warm up before a lethal force encounter is pretty much zero, so if that happens, you’re going to use the gas you have in the tank to get you to your destination. The more gas you have, the better your chances of making it there in one piece. 

John came up with the great chart in the header which, in his opinion, is a way of comparing specific, measurable standards to how much gas is in your automaticity tank. I’ve been try to fill up that tank with analysis and adjustment and all manner of practice, but to no avail. 

Again, pay attention to the verbs in that last sentence. Let’s move on.

It’s been a frustrating trip towards Master, as I’ve been stymied by two recurring problems. The first is picking up the dot on the draw. Sometimes, it’s right there, but most often, it’s high and to the left. The second problem is flinching. It is VERY frustrating for someone like me, who has thousands and thousands of rounds downrange, to have a shooting problem that’s most often associated with newbies who have never fired a pistol before in their lives. Why? Why is this happening NOW? I’m a better shooter than this! I know I am! Why can’t I make myself shoot better? 

Remember those verbs? “Make myself.” “Build my skills.” “Pursuing.” All of them imply that I could force myself into automatic performance through sheer force of will, which is silly. Practice and repetition and analysis and improvement are the foundations of automatic performance, but they are not automatic performance. That arrives a completely different way. Mix Six Drill

Case in point: The first morning of Brian’s class, we’re zeroing our guns, and with my flinch, I am dropping everything at least an inch short at three yards, which KILLS my accuracy. Brian walks over and casually mentions that I’m not breathing as I shoot, and that’s causing two things. I’m concentrating on the shot, rather than letting it happen, and the muscles in my shoulders are tensing up, making me pull the gun to the left of the press out. His suggestion? Let out a low hum as I draw and shoot, which forces me to breathe and be in the moment, rather than tense up. The problem wasn’t in my skill, it was in me, and how I approached my shooting. Automatic performance happens automatically, not because I want it to happen. 


Once I did that, it all fell into place. I stopped trying to force my skill to show up, and just let it happen. The dot then showed up on the draw, and my shots fell into the 10 ring, not low in the 7 ring. 

The result of all of this was a 146 out of 150 on the Complete Combatant Mix Six drill, which puts me at just 2.5% away from perfection. Considering that kind of performance is at USPSA Grand Master level, I will take it. 

So now my goal isn’t to work at achieving IDPA Master, it’s being an IDPA Master. Or, to put it another way, don’t think you are, know you are


* I say that because we all steal from everyone else. Cooper borrowed from Sykes, Fairbairn, Applegate, et al, and it’s been that way ever since.